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A woman accused of leading one of the largest drug cartels in Honduras appeared Wednesday in U.S. federal court to face charges of trafficking large quantities of cocaine into the United States from at least 2006 to 2015.

Federal prosecutors say Herlinda Bobadilla, 61, was the matriarch of the family-run Montes-Bobadilla cartel, which is based in the northeastern coast of Honduras on the Caribbean Sea. The seaside location allows the cartel to receive air and maritime drug shipments from Colombia and other South American countries, and then smuggle it into the United States, U.S. officials say.

Prosecutors said that in 2012, nearly 75 percent of cocaine-smuggling flights from South America first landed in Honduras. The Montes-Bobadilla cartel “uses airplanes, boats, and land motor vehicles” to ship cocaine, including semi-submersible vessels, according to court filings.

Authorities said the cartel trafficked multiple tons of cocaine destined for the United States and netted millions of dollars — sometimes using its fleet and knowledge of logistics to transport shipments for other drug traffickers for a 10 percent fee, paid in cocaine.

Bobadilla was indicted in 2015 along with three of her sons and two other cartel associates. She was captured in Honduras earlier this year and extradited Tuesday, U.S. officials said. The State Department earlier this year offered $5 million for information leading to her capture.

The cartel operated throughout Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico, prosecutors said, keeping Honduran authorities in check with bribes, threats and violence. The Montes-Bobadilla organization in 2008 received a planeload of more than 3,300 pounds of cocaine on an island in Honduras, and in 2013, a U.S.-registered airplane arrived from Venezuela with more than 2,200 pounds of cocaine, according to the indictment.

“The cocaine was moved from the landing strip to a nearby property associated with” Bobadilla, the indictment says.

As the matriarch, Bobadilla “assists her sons in the importation, transportation and distribution of cocaine” and kept “assets and properties in her name to avoid detection and seizure by Honduran law enforcement,” according to the indictment.

One of her sons, Noe Montes-Bobadilla, previously was extradited on drug trafficking charges and was sentenced to 37 years in prison in 2019. Authorities said he was the leader of the Honduran cartel.

Bobadilla stood silently Wednesday for her initial appearance before Magistrate Judge Ivan Davis in federal court in Alexandria. Her bond hearing is scheduled for Friday. Her attorney, Manuel Leiva, declined to comment.

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